Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “Coming to America”

June 18, 2012  |  
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You quote the lines. (“Sexual Chocolate!”) You love the story. And you have to admit that the costumes from the trashy club wear to that gorgeous, pink wedding dress are to die for. Coming to America was another hit in a string of Eddie Murphy blockbusters in the late eighties and early nineties. Grossing over $128 million dollars domestically, it eventually became the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988. We know you love it but did you know some of the secrets behind this comedic classic?

The Dance

There’s a bit of discrepancy circulating around the internet about how the choreography of this dance came together. Some claim that a significant portion of the moves come from “Thriller,” which was choreographed by Michael Peters. (They say it’s just really sped up.) But in reality, former Laker Girl and “American Idol” judge, Paula Abdul is the mastermind behind this scene. The only commonality between Thriller and this dance is that John Landis directed both the music video and the film. We have to give Paula her props on this one. If you don’t remember how brilliant it was, check out the video below and refresh your memory.

McDonald’s Really Wasn’t Happy about the “McDowell” Restaurant

Remember in the film, it was clear that the McDowell family was profiting off the McDonald’s brand. There was even a scene in the movie where someone, presumably from McDonald’s, was taking pictures of the restaurant. Well, that was a case of art imitating life. Even though the production company had already received approval from corporate to use the “golden arcs,” they didn’t spread the word to the people at the local chain. After the crew started decorating the site, a McDonald’s manager sent a photographer over to the site and threatened to sue the set crew for everything they were worth.

Where did “Zamunda” come from?

If you thought Zamunda was a real country, it’s time you seriously consider investing in a good map. The origins of this fictional African nation are questionable. Some claim comedian Richard Pryor, who Eddie Murphy strongly admired, used the name in his routine when he was talking about a fictional African tribe. Co-writers of the script, Blaustein and Sheffield say it came from writer Bob Zmuda, they just altered the name to make it sound more authentic. It’s a mystery.

Close Casting Calls

Could you see Sydney Poitier playing the role of King Jaffe or Vanessa Williams playing the role of Lisa McDowell? Both of these actors were considered for these respective roles. Vanessa Williams might have worked as Lisa but I can’t see Poitier taking on King Jaffe. That’s not really his style.

The Beef between Eddie Murphy and Director John Landis

Though Landis and Murphy seemed to have a good working and personal relationship when they worked on Trading Places together, things went a bit sour when they collaborated on Coming to America. Landis claims it was Eddie’s attitude and Murphy has said that the tension rose because of an inappropriate comment. Check out both versions of the story and see which one you believe.

In 2005, Landis told Collider.com:

“The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great.  The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world – the most unpleasant, arrogant, bullish entourage… just an a55hole.  However, Eddie is brilliant, and he and I have always worked together well; there’s never been an issue created.  On Coming to America, we clashed quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people.  I was like, “Jesus Christ, Eddie!  Who are you?”  But I told him, “You can’t be late.  If you’re late again, I quit.”  We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to kiss his A$$.  He was a jerk.  But great – in fact, one of the greatest performances he’s ever given.”

Hmm, and Eddie says…

Eddie’s Side of the Story

While Landis said it was Murphy’s attitude that sullied their relationship, racially inappropriate comments made by Landis’ wife might have been the true culprit. In 1988, around the time Coming to America was released, People magazine reported that crew members overheard Landis’ wife, Deborah Nadoolman, who was also the costume designer, complaining, in racial terms, about Murphy’s tardiness. When Murphy heard about her comments, the crew claimed that he was so enraged, he caught Landis, the director, not the wife, in a chokehold and demanded an apology.

Eddie told People: “John is a talented director, but we had personal differences. I don’t like him anymore, and he doesn’t like me.”

You’d probably have to get both Murphy and Landis in a room together to learn the real story. Later though, Eddie Murphy asked for John specifically to direct Beverly Hills Cop III. Landis took Murphy’s pleasant demeanor during their meeting, as an apology of sorts. He still said that Eddie was strange but exceptionally talented. Well, at least no one can argue with that.

Whiteface

Whether the director’s wife made racist comments or not, Landis himself thought it would be interesting for Murphy to play off the “blackface” phenomenon. Landis read that in the early 1900s Jewish comedians often wore blackface to portray stereotypical/racist depictions of African Americans so he decided to have Eddie play a Jewish man in “whiteface” for the now-famous barbershop scene.

It Could Have Been a TV Show

Once CBS saw just how much money the movie made, they developed the concept for a weekly television show, starring Tommy Davidson.  A pilot episode was even created. [Luckily,] it never went anywhere but the episode did air in 1989 as a part of the CBS Summer Playhouse pilot anthology series.

The Lawsuit

In his comedy show “Raw” Eddie Murphy says the only way he could be sure a woman wasn’t just interested in his money would be to go to Africa and find one sitting “buck naked on a zebra.” The concept was reversed and obviously toned way down to create what we now know as Coming to America. But that didn’t stop people from claiming that the idea was stolen. In 1990, newspaper columnist, Art Buchwald filed a lawsuit against Paramount, saying the company optioned a similar idea from him in 1982. Paramount eventually settled and Buchwald received $150,000, though his attorney fees cost $200,000.

Source

Is there going to be a remake?

For years there has been talk about fellow comedian Martin Lawrence flipping the Coming to America concept by having a man from Queens discover his royal African relatives and take a trip to learn about them and presumably cash in on some of that wealth. We have no doubt that Martin Lawrence hasn’t lost any of his “funny” over the years but this is one project we don’t want to see him touch. Some classics…most classics, actually, just need to be left alone.

 

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